Planting Containers for Successful Crops

Planting containers is quite simple. Nevertheless, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Here are some tips on how to plant up your containers for successful crops. 

Planting up your containers

Once you have decided upon the site, arrange your planters and pots as you would like them, largest at the back usually. Put plenty of drainage in each pot. Broken crocks are ideal. Some species may need gravel as well to ensure good drainage.

Fill the container nearly full with a mixture of compost, soil and a water retentive filler such as vermiculite. You can also use peat moss but it is not at all easy to find sustainable sources of this. Commercial water retaining gels can also be used.

If you are using soil, compost and vermiculite the proportions you need are around one third of each substance.

Mix everything well together and break up any clods or lumps.

Make sure that you read up on the individual requirements of the different plants you have chosen. Soil requirements vary widely. 

Planting your garden containers is easy. Follow the general instructions for growing vegetables and keep seedlings inside or in the greenhouse until conditions are right.

Irrigate the seedlings or young plants thoroughly and firm them down in their new positions, making sure that the roots have enough room to grow and develop.

Make sure that you check them daily for a few days and then establish a feeding and watering routine.

Make sure that plants are thoroughly soused each time you water.

Make sure that the drainage arrangements are working. Most plants hate sitting in puddles of water.

Watch out for pests or signs of wilting. If you check - and enjoy - your plants daily or every couple of days you shouldn’t have any problems.

Different kinds of container – pros and cons 

Here are some of the main types of planters available in the shops and garden centres. Buy the best quality you can afford.

Terracotta pots look good and hold water well in the semi-porous structure of the pot. They still dry out quickly if left in an exposed position. They are relatively heavy, size for size.

Glazed ceramic pots are increasingly popular and are similar to terracotta. They may dry out more slowly if the glaze is good. They tend to be heavy. 

Plastic planters and pots can be cheap and effective. They are light-weight but they tend to splinter and break quite easily. They keep the moisture in but don’t store any reserve themselves, unlike ceramics and terracotta. Because they do not tend to last more than a few seasons, I don't consider them to be very "green". As with most plastics, sunlight gradually degrades them and they become fragile. Look for the thicker ones for durability. Keep them under cover when not in use - they'll last longer.

Wooden containers are usually light-weight and attractive. They can be painted, or made with pressure-treated woods, for a longer useful life. Not all preservatives are bio-friendly however. Older wooden containers may have been treated with chemicals including arsenic which kill insects.

Metal containers can be good. Avoid the old-fashioned lead planters if you have small children or you want to grow vegetables.

Making your own planters, customising and recycling

You can make homemade planters or you can customise ready made objects such as old boats, or sinks. Old Belfast sinks are ideal for a permanent display. Reclamation yards are worth a look and of course you could find attractive vintage items at car boot sales and auctions.

Recycled plastic tubs can easily be used for everyday kitchen crops such as parsley or carrots. You just need to drill a few holes for drainage. Add a few broken pots or small stones to help the pot drain properly.

Don't use tubs that have held toxic materials, especially if you're planning to grow food.

Tubs that have held chicken manure pellets can be pressed into service for small salad crops. I've even used old plastic washing baskets as a cheap and cheerful container for culinary herbs.


Books on container gardening
Here are a few good books on container gardening.

Easy Container Gardens (Pamela Crawford's Container Gardening) is a popular choice, with lots of photos and step by step instructions.

Pots in the Garden: Expert Design and Planting by Ray Rogers is a great book for the serious container garden enthusiast. There's lots of helpful detail on how to get containers looking just right in different contexts in the garden and patio.

That’s the basics of designing a container garden.

There are more tips on how to grow plants organically in Organic Gardening and How to Grow a Vegetable Garden.

Planting Containers for Successful Crops

Organic Gardening

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